Northern Lights: attempt 10

Two weeks ago, I went to Norway. It was just a long weekend, really, and I packed in as much as I could. Since I was up in the north, in Tromsø, I had to go out and look for the Northern Lights. Spoiler alert: I found them.

We drove west off Tromsø island and onto Kvaløya, Whale Island, which is Norway’s fifth-largest island. We were looking for clear skies, well away from Tromsø’s bright city lights, well away from any lights. The sky was absolutely clear but light-wise we were already fighting a very full and very bright moon.

The Lights were out when we arrived at basecamp. We didn’t waste too much time in the lavvu, the traditional-style Sami tent (except ours was very solid and very much made of wood), just popping in long enough to put down bags, collect up loaned tripods and put on snowsuits if we wanted to, before going outside to test out our cameras on the pale glow in the sky.

For the Lights weren’t showing at their best. They did have the moon to compete with and they were out but they were mostly a fairly pale streak across the sky. I very quickly found that they looked much better on my camera than they did in real life, although we were are a large enough group that several times, people just walked in front of a camera taking a long-exposure photo and by the third time it happened, I started to get frustrated.

Between photos, we sat in the lavvu by the fire, warming up, toasting marshmallows, drinking coffee, thawing our toes. There was always someone outside ready to yell if anything spectacular happened and as the evening wore on, it did. We all piled outside, falling over each other and our tripods, and there were the Lights above us, still not the kind of spectacular you see in photos but still probably better than anything I’ve seen before (I have an 8:2 failure:success ratio where the Northern Lights are concerned). These were Lights that made ribbons across the sky and twinkled visibly. I might have expected them to go horizontally around the horizon but these ones twinkled right across the sky above our heads and were bright enough that I could see the two or three individual ribbons I caught on camera.

I also mastered the art of the “aurora selfie”. Christina, our guide, made sure to take photos of us all with the Lights (because she shone a torch on us, we are differently lit to the background and the result is that we look a bit photoshopped in – I assure you, they’re real) but now I had a tripod to play with, I could do it myself. The only obstacle, other than falling into the deep snow, was having to stand absolutely still for thirty seconds, because that’s how long my little compact point-and-shoot needed to get decent photos, whereas Christina’s big camera only needed eight. But I could do it, more or less! So I not only have a little collection of Northern Lights photos, I also have a few selfies.